June 29, 2013

The British hold court edge at Wimbleton

Andy Murray and Laura Robson advance amid surging expectations for a home-grown champion – or two.

The Associated Press

LONDON - When a 19-stroke exchange ended with Andy Murray's opponent slapping a forehand into the net, thousands of Centre Court spectators rose in unison.

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Andy Murray hopes to be the first British man in 77 years to win the Wimbledon singles title, and most of his toughest would-be foes have been eliminated.

The Associated Press

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They applauded Murray's first service break. They waved their Union Jacks and Scottish flags. It was only a third-round match at Wimbledon, merely 12 minutes and three games old, yet to some that tiny early edge seemed massively meaningful.

So imagine the reaction, louder and livelier, when the second-seeded Murray finished off his 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 victory over 32nd-seeded Tommy Robredo of Spain less than two hours later Friday to advance to Week 2. And then, for a moment, try to fathom what would happen if Murray ever were to win the final point of The Championships, as the Grand Slam tournament is known around here, and become the first British man in 77 years to hoist the trophy.

"You need to be professional enough to not let that stuff bother you and just concentrate on each match," said Murray, who has won 20 of his last 21 matches on grass. "I did a good job of that today. I played well. My best match of the tournament, so far."

The locals' hopes that Murray will follow up his 2012 U.S. Open victory with another major title, this time at Wimbledon, only increased in the aftermath of surprisingly early losses this week by seven-time champion Roger Federer, two-time winner Rafael Nadal and two-time semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Their departures mean the most daunting obstacle in Murray's path -- until a potential final against No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, anyway -- might very well be surging expectations.

"There's a lot more pressure on me now, with them being out," Murray acknowledged.

All in all, Friday was a perfectly British day, and not simply because Murray won his third straight-set match in a row. The lone other remaining singles player from the host country, 19-year-old Laura Robson, made her way into the third round at Wimbledon for the first time, defeating 117th-ranked qualifier Mariana Duque-Marino of Colombia 6-4, 6-1.

Robson eliminated 10th-seeded Maria Kirilenko in the first round, part of a wild first week. All told, four top-10 men (each in Murray's half of the draw) and six top-10 women have lost already, equaling the worst performance by the highest seeds at any Grand Slam tournament in the 45-year history of the Open era.

Speaking about the anyone-can-beat-anyone feel, 37th-ranked Jurgen Melzer of Austria said: "There has been so much talk about it, you cannot ignore it."

He did manage to put a stop to it, however, at least as far as Sergiy Stakhovsky was concerned. Two days after serving-and-volleying his way past defending champion Federer, Stakhovsky played like a guy ranked 116th, losing 6-2, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 to Melzer.

"I think," Stakhovsky said, "I just played stupid."

It's a common sight at major tournaments: An unknown player knocks out a big name, then fails to follow it up with another victory.

The same thing happened to 66th-ranked Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, who went from beating 12th-seeded Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open titlist, on Wednesday to losing to No. 19 Carla Suarez Navarro 7-5, 6-2 on Friday. And 131st-ranked qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal, who eliminated four-time major champion Maria Sharapova in the second round, then bowed out 7-5, 6-2 against 104th-ranked Karin Knapp of Italy in the third.

Among Friday's noteworthy results: Grega Zemlja became the first Slovenian man to reach Wimbledon's third round by edging No. 29 Grigor Dimitrov 11-9 in the fifth set of a match suspended by rain Thursday night and interrupted again Friday; No. 24 Jerzy Janowicz's serves reached 140 mph and he delivered 30 aces in a straight-set victory over No. 15 Nicolas Almagro; No. 4 David Ferrer, the runner-up to Nadal at the French Open, also won, as did 35-year-old Tommy Haas.

In women's play, wild-card entry Alison Riske gave the U.S. a fourth woman in the round of 32 -- no American men made it that far for the first time in 101 years. Riske plays Saturday against Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, who defeated No. 7 Angelique Kerber 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3.

Riske joins countrywomen Serena Williams, the defending champion; No. 17 Sloane Stephens; and Madison Keys. Stephens' third-round match against Petra Cetkovska of the Czech Republic was suspended Friday night because of fading light after they split the first two sets. Two other matches were halted in progress, one with 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova trailing No. 25 Ekaterina Makarova 2-1 in the third set.

 

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